PRESIDENT'S CHOICE PIONEER MAY HAVE SPLIT FROM LOBLAW

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David A. Nichol, 54, reportedly has terminated his longtime relationship with Loblaw Cos., the Toronto-based supermarket chain.

Mr. Nichol was out of the country on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment on a story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week.

The Journal reported Mr. Nichol's consultancy had been working with Loblaw's President's Choice line of premium private-label products since the beginning of 1994, but could no longer devote enough time to the growing program.

With Loblaw off his client list, Mr. Nichol will be able to concentrate his marketing efforts in the U.S. and abroad.

Neither Mr. Nichol nor his secretary would comment on specific future plans, but the Journal reported Mr. Nichol is talking with Cott Corp., Canada's largest private-label soft-drink bottler and the producer of President's Choice store brand cola.

Mr. Nichol is no stranger to Cott. Nearly four years ago, when he was president of Loblaw's grocery product development arm, Mr. Nichol asked the company to produce the cola. Cott's sales exploded, hitting $366.5 million for the first nine months of 1993 compared with $116 million for all of 1991. Cott now also supplies private-label soft drinks to U.S. chains.

In Canada, private-label sodas have quadrupled their market share in less than five years, led by President's Choice.

Mr. Nichol spearheaded the marketing efforts of President's Choice, which has grown into a $1 billion brand with more than 1,000 items including cookies and soft drinks. He left Loblaw at the end of '93 after 20 years as an executive there.

The premium private-label products are sold in supermarket chains throughout Canada and the U.S.

Estimates on the future growth of private labels vary. Some experts estimate private label will have a 40% volume share of all grocery product purchases by 2000, from 18.7% in 1992. However, a Grocery Manufacturers Association-sponsored study released earlier this year questioned whether premium private labels like President's Choice would be able to sustain growth and predicted the share would increase to 23% by 2000.

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